Friday, September 25, 2009

Eritrea in a Quagmire:

Eritrea in a Quagmire: Urgency for a New Beginning
Dr. Tesfatsion Medhanie University of Bremen Federal Republic of Germany Paper delivered at the International Seminar on Prospects of Democracy and Peace in Eritrea, held on the 24th of November 2000, in Stockholm, Sweden.
Eritrea in a Quagmire: Urgency for a New Beginning Tesfatsion Medhanie University of Bremen Federal Republic of Germany The theme of this seminar, as stated in the announcement, is "prospects of peace and democracy in Eritrea". What I intend to do within the time allotted to me is point out the basic political problem in Eritrea today and what I think is the way out. I trust this approach is broad enough to include the issue of "peace and democracy". ********* For quite a number of years now - for more than two decades in fact- I have been following and taking part in debates on Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Horn. I have been associated with viewpoints not quite popular with Eritreans affiliated with the EPLF/PFDJ. It was not easy as those Eritreans were not prepared to listen to anything even faintly critical of the EPLF and later on of the regime in Asmara. I must say there seems to be some change now. One reads in the cyberspace lots of articles, commentaries and observations by Eritreans formerly loyal to the EPLF that sound critical of the regime and that even seem to call for change. Of course there have been in the past -and there still are now- several Eritrean opposition groups criticizing the PFDJ regime and struggling for change. Hence, as I will soon point out, these days there are various categories of Eritreans criticizing the regime and demanding change. ***** There is also a change in the view of some foreign commentators on Eritrea. At least some among those who only a few years ago had sounded positive about Eritrea under the EPLF regime are now utterly disappointed. An example is Mr. Paul Henze, a senior American analyst of Ethiopian-Eritrean affairs. Only a few years ago, Henze was upbeat on Eritrea and had said in 1992 that it could be the "Switzerland of the Red Sea region". Now in the year 2000, considering all the blunders of the EPLF/PFDJ regime, Henze has practically reversed his view. He has gone to the extent of suggesting that Eritrea be placed under international protection. One concludes from Henze's suggestion -and many others maintain- that, as things stand at present, Eritrea's viability has become questionable. This is a point of grave concern. It is important that citizens and friends of Eritrea address it with the seriousness and honesty it deserves. ****** I believe Eritrea can be viable but under certain conditions. I have addressed this issue to some extent in a few conferences in the past. It is clear by now that Eritrea is a small country not well-endowed with natural resources. It has no mineral wealth to speak of. It has explored for oil rather desperately. As yet not much has been identified which is worth extracting for export purposes or even for domestic consumption. The same goes for other minerals. Agriculturally too the country is not very productive. It can not even adequately feed itself. In this sense therefore Eritrea, unfortunately differs from most of its neighbours. The latter are either oil producers or relatively rich in agriculture or, as in the case of the Sudan, both. ****** One can say, however, that though poor in natural resources, Eritrea is fortunate in that it has neighbours that are larger and better endowed. Really, Eritrea is lucky in that it neighbours with Ethiopia, with the Sudan and across the Red Sea with Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Eritrea can be viable only if it takes advantage of the fact that it has such neighbours to the South, west and east. Specifically, Eritrea can be viable in the context of relations of economic cooperation with Ethiopia and the Sudan as well as with its neighbours across the Red Sea. Of course considering the history and geographical contiguity, relations with Ethiopia and the Sudan are more crucial. A few years ago ideas of economic integration and political confederation between Eritrea, Ethiopia, the Sudan and the rest of the Horn were explored. As regards Eritrea and Ethiopia it even seemed that concrete steps were being taken. Isayas and other EPLF leaders had gone to the extent of declaring that the borders between the two countries were becoming meaningless. Some of the EPLF's senior cadres suggested frameworks of integration and confederation that would go on deepening to such an extent that finally Eritrea and Ethiopia would be united on the basis of federation. Economic cooperation or an operative free trade area comprising of Eritrea, Ethiopia , the Sudan and other Horn of Africa states is both necessary and possible. It is necessary especially in this era of globalization when developing states need to join hands so as to be strong and deal with economic forces of the North in ways beneficial to themselves. It is also possible: the complementarity of the countries' economies, and the links in the history and cultures of the peoples concerned not only warrant but also demand such relations of cooperation and even confederal political union. The important question is therefore what problems stand on the way to cooperation in the Horn. **** It is the view of many an observer that one of the main obstacles to cooperation in the Horn these days is the EPLF/PFDJ regime in Asmara. On this point, one commentator from Nairobi - Neville- says the following: "The belligerent regime in Asmara, which has triggered conflicts with its neighbours, is not only an impediment to cooperation but is also a source of instability and a danger to regional peace". Several other observers -Eritrean and non-Eritrean alike- very much regret that this regime has become an obstacle to cooperation between the Horn states. They regret it because cooperation would have benefitted all the states concerned, above all Eritrea itself. It sounds, and it is indeed bizarre, that Eritrea -which stands to benefit most from cooperation- has itself become the chief impediment. In fact as regards relations with its neighbours, the track record of this youngest state of the Horn is rather worrisome: * Only a few months after becoming officially independent, it (Eritrea) provoked armed confrontation with the Sudan. * It is the only African country which has gone to war against a state outside the African continent. This is a reference to the war with Yemen. * It is the only African country which provoked armed conflict -in fact a full scale war- with a neighbouring state it referred to as its former coloniser. * It is the only country that I know of which has fought militarily virtually all its neighbours only in the first four years of its existence. It would make sense to add that there are also political factors that distinguish this young state of the Horn. There indeed are several such factors. I am going to mention just a few. * Eritrea is the only state in the region (Somalia's case being a different problem) that does not have a constitution even though it has been independent for six years now. * The EPLF/PFDJ has always been authoritarian. In fact as many EPLF followers are acknowledging these days, it has been and is still a one-man dominated regime. And yet, the regime has been praised by the West especially by Washington -at least until the end of 1998- as an example of an emerging democracy in Africa. This in itself was very strange indeed. The absurdity in Eritrea's approach to relations with its neighbours is clear. It is also obvious that the absurd approach is facilitated or even necessitated by the anti-democratic system of rule characterising the internal situation. The conclusion is inescapable that the internal political situation -meaning the political order- in Eritrea has to change if the states of the region (in particular Eritrea and Ethiopia) are effectively to embark on processes of economic integration as well as realize a political association along the line of confederation. ****** The political order in Eritrea has to change also -or perhaps primarily- because, due to it, the people inside the country are suffering. * The people are going through one of the worst phases of their country's history. For most of them life is miserable. The poverty is abject. The agony and the sense of loss is severe. * Families are dismembered. Hundreds of thousands of our citizens are displaced inside the country. Many thousands are still refugees in the Sudan. * The country is swarmed with the disabled. I do not exactly know what percentage of the population are disabled especially among those in the 20 to 50 age bracket. * I hear many people are dying due to diseases easily treatable under normal circumstances. The hospitals and clinics are ill-equipped. In most cases people get virtually no treatment worth speaking of. * The people are most oppressed. I hear the prisons are full. There are many thousands of political prisoners. * A sense of shame is afflicting the psychology of our people. This is mainly due to the humiliation caused by the military defeat the regime suffered in the war it instigated with Ethiopia. * There is insecurity in considerable sections of the country. Opposition forces are engaging the regime militarily in particular in the western and eastern lowlands. This pathetic situation is the result of the problems stemming from the nature of the political order imposed upon the people of Eritrea. It seems that the totality of this grave situation has forced many supporters and senior cadres of the EPLF/PFDJ to acknowledge some -but not all- of the pitfalls of the regime of Isayas Afeworki. This brings me to the subject of the debates or exchanges in the cyberspace these days. ******** The cyberspace discussion on the subject of change and democratization in Eritrea is limited to Eritreans in the diaspora. There is no possibility for Eritreans inside the country to take part. One commentator in the Awate website categorises the viewpoints in the cyberspace exchange into three. He characterises them as the "assertive opinion", "the cosmetic opinion", and "the weary opinion". The exponents of the "assertive opinion", strive for fundamental change, as distinguished from reforms that may only serve to enable the regime survive. They stand for the establishment of a new political order and a new government of national unity. This category is represented primarily by the groups in the Alliance of Eritrean National Forces. The promoters of "the cosmetic opinion" aim to salvage Isayas Afeworki or at least the PFDJ regime before the situation explodes and the regime is got rid of. The upholders of the "weary opinion" are somewhere between the two. They call for basic changes in the PFDJ. They would like it to continue having a role in Eritrean politics but after reforming itself and renouncing the monopolization of power. They would like other Eritrean forces to have equal participation in the political life of the country. The writer in the Awate website plausibly adds there are also commentators one cannot strictly classify in one or another of the three categories. ******** I do not have the time to deal with samples of opinions falling within the "cosmetic" and "weary" categories. I would rather focus on the document which has become perhaps the most significant -and certainly the most controversial- of the writings from the PFDJ camp. This is the document entitled "Letter to President Isayas", now popularly known as the "Berlin Manifesto". It is a petition to the president written supposedly in Berlin by a group of individuals described as "professionals and academics". To understand why this petition has become so controversial, one has to see what is novel about it as a development in the EPLF/PFDJ camp as well as its substantive shortcomings from the viewpoint of the long-standing critics and opponents of the regime. What is new about the Berlin Manifesto? What I mean by new in this context is something which is out of character for the EPLF/PFDJ. In other words the expression of ideas and the use of tone unknown among the members of the EPLF fraternity is what I refer to as new in this presentation. Here are some of such ideas the Manifesto expressed in a tone a little less extolling of the leadership than typical writings of the EPLF/PFDJ cadres. * Though not explicitly, the Berlin Manifesto admits Ethiopia has won the latest war. It acknowledges the Ethiopian army succeeded to "penetrate deep into Eritrean territory with such speed and devastating effect". * The Manifesto even states that "the wound inflicted" upon Eritrea "has been a chastening experience". This is an interesting statement as it can be taken to imply that Eritrea under the EPLF needed to be corrected. * It notes the gravity of the humanitarian problem the war has caused. It refers to the plight of Eritreans vegetating in refugee camps and to the expulsion of thousands of Eritrean "compatriots" from Ethiopia. * It acknowledges that as a result of this war the country's image in the world has been tarnished. In the words of the Manifesto, "Eritrea's image has never been as bad as it is today. Indeed it has hit rock bottom". It adds that "much of the world community" now "perceives the Eritrean government and its leadership as aggressive and irresponsible". The Manifesto adds that the "leadership has been cast, particularly since the start of the war with Ethiopia, as contemptuous of international law and accepted norms of behaviour". * It regrets that "we", meaning Eritrea under the PFDJ regime, have "alienated our friends and allies, including those who stood by us during the liberation struggle". ** As regards the system of governance the Manifesto admitted that what obtains in Eritrea is a one-man rule. It uses such phrases as "one-man leadership" and "one-man dominance". It points out that this situation denied the country "the values that come with collective reflection and action in national affairs". It implies that the situation of one-man rule "has inevitably prevented the growth of democratic institutions". ** Also as regards cohesion within the EPLF/PFDJ today, the Manifesto acknowledges there are contradictions. It notes there is "crisis within the leadership", which, it stresses, is "serious and dangerous". ** The Manifesto argues that the PFDJ -the sole ruling party- is practically a parallel government. It is not "confined to party activities" but does virtually what a government does. (It is implied that the PFDJ is more powerful than the official government, if at all one can distinguish between the two.) The Manifesto is particularly concerned about the economic activities of the PFDJ. It implies that the PFDJ has monopolised Eritrea's economy. Referring to the party's engagement in business the Manifesto says that this is "fostering corruption, cronyism, and favoritism". It calls for a reassessment of the party's involvement in business. *** The Manifesto even mentions the subject of national reconciliation within Eritrea. It notes that the EPLF/PFDJ "lost" an opportunity to engage in reconciliation with "all Eritreans irrespective of belief or political affiliation to join hands in rebuilding a shattered society and economy". It even goes further to say that "the EPLF (PFDJ) leadership should be willing now to provide political space for groups or individuals". *** The Manifesto notes the violation of the rule of law in the country. As an example it cites the existence and operation of what is known as the "special court". It points out that people "have been languishing in jail for many years without being formally charged of any crime, let alone sentenced". It condemns this situation "as an affront to elementary notion of justice" and demands that the prisoners be released or else be taken to court. In light of all the above (and many other) problems and concerns the petitioners admit that the PFDJ regime has failed Eritrea. As regards the development of one-man rule in particular, they blame not only the president, Isayas Afeworki, but the other members of the leadership as well. In the words of the Manifesto "They (the other members of the leadership) too have failed the nation along with you (Isayas) in allowing power to be concentrated in the hands of one man". ***** The Berlin Manifesto raises several points that may sound strange to the followers of the EPLF/PFDJ. Hence, it is not surprising that many such EPLF followers are attacking the Berlin petitioners as "rebels" or even traitors. One can safely say that, given the tradition of unquestioning obedience in the EPLF, the Berlin Manifesto is significant. It has provoked discussion of issues unpalatable to the regime. But the real question is does it -and is it really meant- to help fundamentally correct the situation in Eritrea? Many doubt the aim of the Manifesto is to help bring about basic political change. This doubt is warranted especially considering the problems and inconsistencies in the Manifesto. What are some of these problems? * The problems and issues the Berlin petitioners deal with are among those the Eritrean opposition forces have been addressing all along. Be it on the question of democracy, or on the monopolization of the economy by the PFDJ, or on the relations with neighbouring countries, Eritrean opposition forces and critics have been campaigning against the regime. In fairness, it must be pointed out that throughout the years when the opposition were criticising and challenging the regime on the above and other issues, several of the Berlin petitioners were not only defending but actually serving the regime in important capacities. * I do not want to be misunderstood on this point. I would like to make it clear that, as far as I am concerned, those who were (or still are) supporting Isayas' regime can change their mind any time. But when they do so they can be credible only if they honestly acknowledge how wrong they were in the past years and how seriously they had contributed to the suffering of the Eritrean people. Furthermore, they have to be courageous and admit that all along the opposition forces and the critics were correct in pointing out the problems the Berlin Manifesto is addressing only today, towards the end of the year 2000. The Berlin petitioners did not admit they were wrong in the past; they did not acknowledge the justness of the opposition's cause today and in the past. In fact they did not even explicitly mention the existence of the opposition. ******** Substantively the Berlin Manifesto suffers from several problems and inaccuracies. The following are some of the major ones. * In the course of expressing their "unreserved support for" the EPLF government "in its defense of our country's sovereignty and territorial integrity", the Berlin petitioners allege Eritrea has been the victim of "Ethiopian aggression". Later on too they say that we have been "devastated by the Ethiopian invasion of our sovereign land". Their allegations are false. Ethiopia did not invade Eritrean territory. It was not the aggressor. The war occurred because (i) the EPLF regime sent armed forces into and occupied territory long administered by Ethiopia; and (ii) it rejected the calls of the international community to withdraw from the territory on the basis of the principle of status quo ante bellum. On the crucial question of who was the aggressor in the war the Berlin Manifesto fully supports the regime. * The petitioners maintain there have been acts violative of human rights which "agents of the Ethiopian government" committed against "innocent Eritreans". They condemn these acts. There can be no question that so long as the petitioners have enough evidence -or even so long as they believe- that there have been such violations, they are justified to condemn them. However, as "academics and professionals" they are expected to show genuine appreciation for the principle that human rights are universal. Hence, even as they protest what they believe are violations of human rights of Eritreans, they could have raised the question of the abuse of human rights of Ethiopians in Eritrea. The Berlin Manifesto does not even mention that there have been allegations about such violations. There have been several reports about how Ethiopians, especially Tigreans, in Eritrea are being cruelly deprived of their human rights. Many such Ethiopians, it is said, have been abducted, sent back to Ethiopia across landmine-infested roads, sent to concentration camps, and arbitrarily killed. Hence, on the issue of human rights violations too, it is obvious that the Berlin Manifesto stands on the side of the regime. * The petitioners imply that one-man rule is a new phenomenon in the EPLF. They claim that during the years of the armed struggle there was "collective leadership" in the EPLF. This is not true. The EPLF has always been a one-man dominated organization, and that one man has been Isayas Afeworki. The petitioners know only too well that throughout the years when they were loyally serving the EPLF, it was, as it is today, a one-man dominated organization. * In this connection one is prompted to make an observation on the Berlin petitioners' verdict that the leaders of the EPLF "failed the nation" along with Isayas "by allowing power to be concentrated in the hands of one man". The verdict is correct as regards all the EPLF leaders. However, it is not only the leaders who failed Eritrea in this sense. The pro-EPLF Eritrean intellectuals and other elites also failed Eritrea. Among them are several of the Berlin petitioners themselves. They were fully supporting the policies of the EPLF/PFDJ, including those policies that in effect strengthened and perpetuated the one man rule of Isayas Afeworki. * The petitioners' criticism of the PFDJ's involvement in the economy also calls for some comment. The Manifesto expresses admiration for the EPLF's professed policy of self-reliance, which it says is "commendable" though it admits there are some "problems" with "its implementation". The petitioners are either unaware or unwilling to admit that self-reliance has always been used in the EPLF in a sectarian manner. It has been the basic pretext for the EPLF's claim that it is the most advanced of all the movements in the Horn. It has been associated with the propaganda that even as a national liberation movement the EPLF was far more efficient and competent in several areas than many fully-fledged governments in Africa. In other words, it was a chief ingredient of the attitude which led the EPLF to look down upon others including Ethiopia under the TPLF/EPRDF. And in the post-independence period the attitude underlying the EPLF's notion of self-reliance was applied to pursue monopolization of the economy by the EPLF/PFDJ. The PFDJ's involvement in business is not unrelated to the EPLF's policy of self-reliance which the Berlin petitioners say is "commendable". One is thus surprised to note that according to the petitioners, "it cannot be denied that PFDJ/government business activities have solved many problems by providing timely and affordable commodities to our people". This sounds strange to anyone familiar with the situation in Eritrea. Which problems did the party's business activities solve? The PFDJ -i.e. the government, became a competitor even in very small enterprises. Being the almighty there it pushed shop keepers and other small entrepreneurs out of business, thus pauperizing many of them. Actually, the regime's economic policy and its involvement in business discouraged moneyed Eritreans abroad from investing in the country thereby reducing the prospects of real development. * On the subject of the so called Eritrean constitution the Berlin Manifesto has fundamental problems. The petitioners regret that the constitution is not yet implemented. In this regard they state their demand in these words: "we, therefore solemnly request that you take the necessary steps to ensure the full and immediate implementation of our constitution". The request is stated rather firmly. One gets the sense that implementation of the constitution is the chief agenda the petitioners are interested in. What are the problems with the petitioners' views and calls as regards the EPLF's constitution? (i) The petitioners take it as given that there is such a thing as Eritrean constitution. But this is not correct. As yet there is no constitution in Eritrea. Yes, there is a draft which was said to be ratified. But it never came into effect. The Berlin petitioners insist that "a ratified constitution means that it is already in effect". They add that "no one has the right to suspend it or otherwise tamper with it". What we know for sure is that this so called constitution was suspended from day one -i.e. before it ever came into effect. There is no constitution and there is no constitutional rule in Eritrea under the EPLF. One really wonders why the petitioners, who, all the time, were silent about the suspension of the constitution are now insisting it exists and should be implemented. (ii) The petitioners make false claims about the making and the nature of the EPLF constitution. They tell us that the constitution was "crafted with the participation of the people and was ratified by their representatives". They even dare say that this constitution "represents the consummation of the Eritrean struggle"; that it is "the most sacred document of the nation"; and that it is "the people's document". These claims are outrageous. There is no basis whatsoever to characterise the document as an expression of the will of the Eritrean people. The constitution was drafted without the participation of the opposition forces, without the participation of a considerable section of the Eritrean people. Actually, it seems the Berlin petitioners do contradict themselves on this issue. For example they note that following the military victory in 1991 there was an opportunity for the EPLF to engage in national reconciliation with "all Eritreans irrespective of belief or political affiliation". They admit the EPLF did not avail itself of that opportunity. They admit the opportunity was lost. Hence, it is logical to say that they know only too well that the constitution was drafted in the absence of national reconciliation. They know it was drafted and decided upon without the participation of the opposition forces and the sections of the Eritrean people these forces represent. They know this is not the constitution of the Eritrean people but that of the PFDJ and of the PFDJ alone. ********* In light of all the above one really wonders what it is that the petitioners seek to accomplish. Do they want a fundamental change? Or are they aiming at merely cosmetic change that will help the regime survive and continue? It is clear from the content of the Manifesto that fundamental change is not what the petitioners are about. Let us see some of their remarks. (i) The petitioners not only praise the president, Isayas Afeworki, for his "role in leading our nation to independence", but also stress that they are "mindful of" the president's "continued importance as a national leader". This makes it clear they envision Isayas will continue as a leader including perhaps two more terms as president, elected under the constitution!! (ii) As regards the war with Ethiopia the petitioners state that it had been costly to Eritreans. They note that it has "raised grave questions about the conduct of Eritrean affairs both domestic and foreign". But they do not expose the regime as the aggressor in the war and thus as the party responsible for the suffering of the Eritrean people. True, they express the hope that the president or the leadership in general will do some "soul-searching" in this regard. But they say nothing that puts the blame upon the EPLF leadership or upon the president himself who is the commander in chief of the armed forces. (iii) Actually, the petitioners express their "admiration for the Eritrean defense forces" for what they claim was their "role in foiling the Ethiopian aggression". This means the defense forces were victorious in their mission. (And the president -the commander in chief- has done a good job). If Ethiopia was the aggressor and if the aggression was foiled, then it follows Eritrea had won the war!! So what are the Berlin petitioners up to? Some opine that they are appealing to Isayas Afeworki to introduce some reforms in the hope that the reforms would eventually lead to his resignation. Others are of the view that what the petitioners want is for the regime to introduce some reforms and implement the EPLF constitution, a move that may in fact secure Isayas' continued stay in power as an "elected" president. I find it necessary to say that I do not have anything personal against the Berlin petitioners. On the contrary, I would be very happy if they manage to achieve something positive for the people of Eritrea. But I cannot help pointing out that many Eritreans sense there is something dubious about the Manifesto. Many suspect the Manifesto is part of an effort to preempt the situation which is calling for change. In other words they consider it part of some endeavour to save the PFDJ regime from being overthrown by the people. Believe it or not there are even some who say that Isayas Afeworki himself is behind the Berlin Manifesto. One commentator (or investigative reporter) wrote in the Awate website that his contacts inside the EPLF in Asmara told him that Isayas had not only known about it before the Berlin meeting took place but was in fact part of it. The theory is that the regime is now so insecure that it needs to employ even something like the Berlin Manifesto as a strategy for surviving and staying in power. Of course I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this view. On the other hand, I know that Isayas Afeworki is one who would do virtually anything to stay in power. In light of this I cannot dismiss the reports outright as too far-fetched or impossible. ******** The Berlin petitioners are not the only group calling on the regime to make a change and launch what they regard a democratization process. Many others are. These groups and individuals call for democratization and suggest that we begin with the implementation of the EPLF constitution and the holding of elections. I have problems with this proposition. * First, as I already mentioned, there is no constitution. The opposition forces do not recognise the existence of any constitution. The EPLF's constitution is not a legitimate document. A considerable section of the Eritrean people have no loyalty to it. * Secondly, the idea of elections now with the EPLF monopolising all the components of state power -i.e. the army, the police, the media, the bureaucracy etc.- is a mockery. Only the EPLF/PFDJ can win. What is needed now is a transitional government comprising of the opposition organizations as well as other political and social forces. This can be the beginning of a democratization process in Eritrea. Many are of the opinion that the PFDJ or the regime as such can't be part of this transitional government. In light of its history it is not a credible partner for reconciliation and democratization. In the past -i.e. since 1991- the EPLF regime had been offering successive pretexts to avoid or to postpone democratization. Those of you who have been following Eritrean events recall the following: * Till 1993 the EPLF was saying there can be no multi-party democracy before the referendum. It told Eritreans to wait till the referendum. * After the referendum, it insisted the EPLF's third organisational congress should be held before multi-party democracy is allowed. It told us to wait till the third Congress which took place in 1994. * After the congress the EPLF insisted there can be no multi-party democracy before the constitution is made. It told the people to wait for the promulgation of the constitution. * The EPLF's constitution was drafted and supposedly ratified in 1997. But it was suspended before it ever came into effect. This means the EPLF's last precondition for allowing multi-party democracy remained unfulfilled. Using the above pretexts the regime rebuffed all efforts the Eritrean opposition forces had made for national reconciliation and for a subsequent process leading to the establishment of a government of national unity. The Eritrean opposition has thus firmly concluded that reconciliation and democratization are not possible with Isayas and his inner clique still in power. It should be noted here that now too, members of the leadership and many supporters of the EPLF/PFDJ have come up with a new excuse to postpone democratization in Eritrea. They say they agree we should have multi-party democracy in Eritrea; but they insist that first the war and the problem with Ethiopia must be definitively resolved. Some even put it a bit differently saying, first Eritrea has to be free from the danger of invasion by Ethiopia. As I mentioned earlier, no one has invaded Eritrea. Ethiopia certainly did not. And in the whole region there is no government that is bent on invading Eritrea or undermining its sovereignty. This allegation about the danger of Ethiopian invasion is only the EPLF's latest pretext for postponing true democratization in Eritrea. The only solution is to set up a transitional government. Incidentally this can include members of the PFDJ if they renounce its policies and fully cooperate in the transition to democracy. The Eritrean opposition forces have repeatedly called upon the EPLF/PFDJ army "to take the side of the people and open dialogue with the resistance". For example in its declaration of May 3, 1999, the ELF (Legislative Council) had urged the army to rise up against the dictatorship and "put the members of the EPLF's ruling clique under arrest pending trial according to the rule of law". If true patriots in the EPLF/PFDJ take control of the organisation it can possibly be competent enough to join the transitional government. If, under the control of genuine patriots, the EPLF/PFDJ is effectively transformed -i.e. it is cleansed of the networks, cliques and "security" apparatuses sustaining Isayas' autocracy- it can be a credible partner in national reconciliation and democratization processes. ********** One of the major questions the transitional government will have to deal with concerns the case of those responsible for the sufferings of the people. Something like a truth commission will have to be established to determine whether to bring criminal charges against those accountable. To understand this proposition it is important to recall the point I made earlier. Since 1994 the people were forced to go to successive wars against virtually all their neighbours. Young Eritreans were killed in the war over Hanish islands which the International tribunal finally decided belongs to Yemen. Young Eritreans were killed in the battles with the Sudan. And tens of thousands of Eritreans were massacred in the war with Ethiopia. In all the wars the EPLF/PFDJ regime was the aggressor. It is therefore answerable for the loss of Eritrean lives in all these wars. Moreover, our people are suffering as a result of the wars. They are going through one of the most horrible experiences in their country's history. Tens of thousands have become refugees. Hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced. Eritreans inside the country are hurting a lot. Their pain is indescribable. Isayas Afeworki and others in the top leadership, who instigated the wars, are responsible for the sufferings of the Eritrean people today. Indeed, many are of the view that they have committed crimes against the people of Eritrea (and against the peoples of the neighbouring countries as well). It is only fair to demand the establishment of a commission to investigate the matter and see to it that they are brought to justice. Incidentally, this is not the first time I am raising this issue. I raised it more than four years ago in a lecture I delivered on the Eritrea-Yemen conflict over the Hanish archipelago. I think I should also point out that several groups -Eritrean and others- are demanding trial of those they allege are responsible for crimes against the Eritrean people. As I mentioned earlier, the Eritrean opposition forces have been and are still making this demand. Some activists have also touched upon the subject, in fact in relation to criticisms of the Berlin Manifesto. For example, Fisseha-Tsion Menghistu and Associates, in their latest commentary entitled "The Berlin Appeal: From Blind loyalty to a letter of Appeal", express the following view: "The total number of accusations (in the Berlin petition) would in effect make the Eritrean leadership liable to many national and international crimes that the signatories of the Berlin petition have not dared to raise". A legal process to determine -and hold accountable- those responsible for the suffering of the Eritrean people is necessary. And the reason is not only that justice must be done. Such a process is important also for building the confidence of the neighbouring countries in Eritrea. ******* It is clear that change of regime, which necessarily implies removal of the EPLF/PFDJ from state power, is necessary if Eritrea is to become a viable state. As noted at the outset Eritrea can be viable only by cooperating and integrating with its neighbours. If at all Eritrea can be a Singapore, it is only through these relations of economic cooperation and close political association. So far, whatever chance Eritrea had to proceed in the direction of Singapore has been wasted. Isayas' regime blew it by antagonising all of Eritrea's neighbours one after the other. On this matter a foremost Africanist, Professor Christopher Clapham of Lancaster University observed the following: "There was much talk in the Eritrean government that Eritrea might become the Singapore of East Africa; but Singapore doesn't spend its time invading neighbouring Malaysia or Indonesia". Unquestionably Eritrea's relations with its neighbours must be most peaceful and fraternal. Otherwise, Eritrea can't be viable let alone become the Singapore of the region. But there is one important point. There can be gainful relations of cooperation only if Eritrea's neighbours can have confidence in the Eritrean regime. At present none of the neighbours has the necessary confidence in Isayas' regime. One can say with certainty that so long as this regime is in power, Eritrea's neighbours, especially Ethiopia, will not be genuinely disposed to have relations of cooperation or political association with Eritrea. In this connection the writer from Nairobi, Neville, observed the following: "If the Eritrean government does not come to its senses, which is a remote probability, or is not replaced by a visionary leadership with the right attitude towards regional cooperation, there is no doubt that the capacity and political will of the sub-region to get organised and jointly formulate and implement practical ways for economic cooperation will be in jeopardy". Hence, frankly speaking, both internal stability in Eritrea and regional cooperation and peace in the region require a change of regime in Eritrea. Certainly, such a change is necessary for the very viability of Eritrea as a serious political state. I can imagine friends of Eritrea everywhere -including in the Scandinavian countries- feeling somewhat troubled about the strife which the call for a change of regime in Eritrea might entail. This is understandable. But one hopes that such friends are -or will soon be- aware that the EPLF/PFDJ, which many of them sincerely supported in the past years, has made a mess of Eritrea. The project to straighten out the mess requires basic political change. Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, Eritrea is in urgent need of a new beginning. //-//